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Losing faith

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The Observer takes our civic responsibility seriously, but beyond that, we just plain love voting. It feels clean and solid, gives us a sense of pride, hope and importance. We love grinning at strangers while we all wait at the polls. We love that sense of connection to all these other responsible citizens, particularly those in our very line of sight, our fellow Americans. We love democracy! We loved the free coffee Starbucks gave us on Nov. 4, 2008, for brandishing our "I voted" sticker.

But The Observer is also a bit of a procrastinator. On Oct. 1, we realized that the crucial 30-day mark was looming, so we finally completed the form that had been sitting on our desk for months, and we dropped it in the mail. Now this was close to the deadline, understand. But it was also eight days prior to the cut-off date. After Oct. 9, new Arkansas registrations wouldn't count for the Nov. 6 election. On Oct. 2, we checked to make sure our registration had been lifted by our trusty postal worker. It had. On Oct. 3, we boarded a plane to attend a wedding, confident that in a few weeks, that same trusty postal worker would gift us with a lovely proof of registration card.

The card never came. On Monday, Oct. 22, the Observer searched the list of registered Pulaski County voters online. Nothing. The Observer was a bit sweaty-palmed when we called the election commission, but not too nerve-wracked — after all, we have faith in the system. But the election commission had nothing, either. We asked them to go through all the forms waiting to be put in the computer. We said we would wait. We held for a good 15 minutes, until the representative returned. Still nothing. "Is there no emergency way to register if your form has been lost in the mail?" we asked. We were transferred to a supervisor. We left a message. We spent the rest of the day angry, inexplicably short with friends and co-workers. A few hours later that same day, when we hadn't heard from the supervisor, we called the election commission again. "Call back Friday," we were told. "We'll have a more finalized list then."

In our four-day waiting period, The Observer searched the online registration list at least once a day and contemplated driving six hours to early vote in our former state. But we want our vote counted here, where we live and where the local officials will make decisions that directly affect us. We called on Friday. We were told our only option was to vote provisionally, and that if our registration card was found, our vote would count. We cursed ourself for not handling things months ago, so that we could have dealt with this with time to spare. But we've moved our registration in the past with such ease that we never expected any hang-ups. We cursed the system for disenfranchising our rightful voice.

Two days ago, The Observer went to the Pulaski County Regional Building to vote — early, provisionally and despairingly. We've never voted early (nor provisionally) before, but we were slightly heartened by the purposeful bustle about the place. The campaigners outside were friendly, there seemed to be no sign of intimidation or untoward behavior, poll workers were courteous, and at 2 p.m., there were loads of early voters. We required special attention, so while we stood aside waiting, we watched as one woman discovered that she was still registered in Ouachita County. The poll worker handed her an absentee form and walked her through the process. It made us think about how some folks are so apathetic that they don't even bother to try (the Observer has been fast de-friending Facebook contacts that post this sentiment), while others realign planets just to ensure that their vote counts.

Then we were ushered to a school desk with a plastic divider set up around it. The poll worker gave us a paper ballot and told us that because our registration form had to go to the secretary of state's office before coming to the election commission and because we were moving our registration from another state, it probably took longer to process. Most likely our form will show up. Either way, we'll get a letter in the mail letting us know. We appreciate the explanation (or justification?), but this is little consolation for the fact that we did what we were supposed to and it seems to have made no difference. We love voting. We love democracy. We had faith in the system. Right now, that faith is deeply shaken.

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